Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Say Yes to Love

Music Frozen Dancing at The Empty Bottle – 2/28/15 (Pictorial Review)

Perfect Pussy XXXV

Last Saturday outside of The Empty Bottle, the temperatures were below 20, the stage lights were on, and a crowd of people was gathering at the lip of the (tented) stage in nervous anticipation. A free festival, Music Frozen Dancing, was set to take place and be carried on the backs of four artists occupying varying corners of the DIY punk landscape: NE-HI, Oozing Wound, Protomartyr, and Perfect Pussy. The former two held down for vicious wall-of-noise basement pop and aggressive hardcore while providing some impressive local representation. The latter two brought in their hard-won figurehead statuses, respectively, and continued to demonstrate a fierce dedication to the DIY ethos that facilitated their growing reputations. Every band brought something unique to the small, makeshift stage and every single one of them saw the audience (much of it inebriated, thanks in part to a Goose Island sponsorship and their accompanying tent) react in kind. It was a small festival that lived up to its name: there were bitingly cold temperatures, there was dancing, and- most of all- there was music. Amps blew (NE-HI), bass drum pedals collapsed beyond repair (Oozing Wound), tension was raised (Protomartyr), and everything was brought to a close with a violently raucous, noise-heavy finish (Perfect Pussy, doing their best to thrash their equipment into oblivion). Photos of the memorably unique show can be found below.

 

14 of ’14: The Best Albums of 2014

LVL UP II

One last time for one last 2014 list: “best” is in no way an attempt to be an objective statement. The terminology is shorthand to reflect personal taste and is not to be construed as anything more. Also, for the purposes of a more personal summary in this year-end coverage period, this site’s regular restriction on first person will be lifted. In 2014, I listened to more music that was released throughout the year than any other in my life. Numbering well upwards of a thousand releases, it proved impossible to keep tracks on everything (I’m already certain a few of these lists are missing more than a few titles that I genuinely loved)- but there were a few items that were worth remembering. Below are 14 records that managed to carve their way into my esteem both instantaneously and through the process of time. Below that is what turned into the most extensive list I’ve ever assembled, one that acts as an unnecessary validation that good music is being created at an excessively high volume (all of which is hyperlinked to either a full stream or a representative portion). We’re living in a golden age for access and music continues to reap the benefits allowed by technology.  In that spirit, it’s worth noting that a lot of the names included below won’t always be the most recognizable- this is due to both that volume and the fact this site’s built on a foundation that ensures bands who are marginalized will be given the consideration they deserve. So, with all of that noted, it’s time to move on to the main attraction: 14 of ’14: The Best Albums of 2014.

14. Taulard – Les Abords Du Lycée

2014’s most unexpected gem, Les Abords Du Lycée, is a mesmerizing listening that drives home taut organ/drums/vocals post-punk with a startling amount of verve. Endlessly charismatic and unpredictable, the dozen tracks on display here constantly twist and turn, never once daring to let the listener catch their breath. Mood and tempo changes abound on one of 2014’s most fearlessly unique records. Even for those who aren’t even remotely well-versed in the French language, Les Abords Du Lycée should be a thrilling listen; something like unbridled passion can always translate well enough to near the universal.

13. La Dispute – Rooms of the House

What’s easily one of 2014’s boldest concepts roots La Dispute’s mesmerizing Rooms of the House, a record that shows La Dispute’s rapid maturation with a weary grace. Centered around a meticulously brilliant narrative device, it’s a record that stunned me on my first few listens before growing into an inescapable force of nature that refused to leave my thoughts. As bleak as anything the post-hardcore has ever produced, Rooms of the House finds its strength through focus and restraint, zeroing in on difficult topics with a keen eye and an abundance of determination. Blisteringly personal and nearly voyeuristic, it stands as one of 2014’s fiercest artistic statements.

12. Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood

Two Inch Astronaut’s Foulbrood has come up more than a few times on the site over the past handful of months thanks to its casual brilliance. Wielding an enticing palette of influences ranging from Drive Like Jehu to their contemporaries in Exploding in Sound, Two Inch Astronaut managed to conjure up one of the most impressive sophomore efforts of the year. The title track, “Part of Your Scene“, and “Dead White Boy” all earned themselves individual write-ups on the basis of their appealingly off-kilter and ragged identity. Foulbrood‘s a record that knows exactly what it wants to be and goes straight for the throat, sending a trail of viscera flying it its wake.

11. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

One of the things I kept coming back to throughout the course of music in 2014 was Jayson Gerycz’s drumming on this record. Not just because it’s a staggering individual performance but because there’s an undefinable, inherent quality that exists within that drumming which drives this record to obscene heights. Impossibly, stripped of the drumming, the record succeeds wildly in an acoustic setting and demonstrates Dylan Baldi’s increasing proficiency as a songwriter, a vocalist, and a guitarist. After losing a member in guitarist Joe Boyer, Cloud Nothings somehow managed to transform themselves into an act that was simultaneously heavier and poppier than when they were a quartet. Importantly, this is a record that’s built to last and it’s only grown on me as the year’s progressed (and that trend’s not showing any signs of slowing).

10. Ought – More Than Any Other Day

As beguiling as it is bewitching, Ought’s brit-pop influenced post-punk masterpiece was a record that sounded triumphant right out of the gate. Slowly, that triumph turned to transcendence and the songs contained within More Than Any Other Day became unavoidable mission statements. In terms of scope, the majority of More Than Any Other Day feels as epic as LCD Soundsystem operating at their best. Both acts share a penchant for sprawling structures and self-containment, bridging a gap between intimacy and grandeur with a knack for deceptive, intricate songwriting. Anthemic and mundane, More Than Any Other Day was like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart, waiting for the resuscitated with a sly grin and a memorable, tossed-off joke. Excessively charming and utterly winsome, it’s a record that felt (and still feels) necessary.

9. Jawbreaker Reunion – Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club

“E.M.O.”, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club‘s thrilling centerpiece, recently appeared in this site’s best songs of 2014 list- but the song’s only one part of a much larger picture. At once, one of the year’s most joyous and pissed off releases, Jawbreaker Reunion tore through a variety of serious issues with aplomb on their absolutely stunning debut effort. Other than distilling songs like “Laughing Alone Eating a Salad” with a wicked sense of humor, the whole affair’s imbued with an enviably powerful sense of songcraft. Lo-fi, DIY, punk, and teeming with an understanding of classic pop, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club was one of 2014’s boldest introductions- it was also one of its best.

8. PURPLE 7 – Jewel Finger

PURPLE 7 boasts a lineup that’s accompanied by an impressive pedigree. Members of the band have previously played in bands like Defiance, Ohio, Landlord, and Hot New Mexicans (whose self-titled record ranks among my all-time favorites and currently leads my “best of decade” selections). Unsurprisingly, their debut LP effort hits a lot of sweet spots, including a gritty middle point between basement punk and basement pop. Simply put, this is a stunning collection of songs that was overlooked by most to a baffling degree after its release. Grounded, humble, and heartfelt, Jewel Finger is one of the records that reminds me of the reasons I started this site. This is music that deserves to be celebrated.

7. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Arguably 2014’s first truly great release, Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness saw the songwriter transition from a promising talent into one of the year’s most arresting figures. Embracing a fuller sound and a newfound confidence, Burn Your Fire For No Witness broke Angel Olsen’s career wide open with an onslaught of genuinely haunting tunes. Whether they were relentlessly spare or soaked in noir-ish tendencies, they were uniformly captivating; both the storm and the eerie silence before. Raw, tender, and occasionally antagonistic, Burn Your Fire For No Witness was one thing above all else: unforgettable.

6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE

From the devastating opening lines all the way through to the climactic finish, LOSE holds its ground as one 2014’s most frighteningly personal albums. Largely influenced by the death of a friend close to the band, it’s a meditation on loss and the surrounding aspects of something so tragic. Easily Cymbals Eat Guitars’ finest work to date both lyrically and musically, it’s a powerful (and powerfully moving) listen. “Warning”, in particular, cuts deep- which is one of the reasons why it wound up on the best songs of 2014 list just a few days ago. Incredibly impassioned and brave in its sincerity, LOSE finds a level of catharsis in its emotional turbulence, lending it a charge that renders it one of the year’s most human (and most important) releases.

5. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes To Love

Perfect Pussy, for better or worse, have become intrinsically linked with this site. From Meredith Graves’ insistence on tangential involvement (which I’ll forever be grateful for) to the fact that the band’s greater ascension matched up with the very start of this site, they’re a band I’ve gone step for step with since bringing Heartbreaking Bravery into existence. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t been so fiercely drawn to the things that they were doing, though, which is why I approached them in the first place. Ever since those beginnings, it’s been a privilege to watch them progress, to travel at lengths to watch them play, and to see them release a record as enormously powerful as Say Yes To Love, a collection which houses my favorite song of 2014 (and possibly of this decade so far). Unapologetic, personal, damaged, resilient, powerful, feral, oddly triumphant, and unbelievably intense, Say Yes To Love operates as a perfect reminder for all of the reasons why I fell in love with this band- and why I’ll continue to pay close attention to their movements.

4. Iceage – Plowing Into The Field of Love

No band in 2014 made a more stunning artistic leap than Iceage, who went from a static blur to matching the swaggering heights of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds after discovering their voice. Plowing Into The Field Of Love was a startlingly radical change of pace for Iceage, who imbue the record with a curious restraint and a sense of deeply haunted Americana. Southern Gothic touch points are littered throughout the record’s bleak landscape, while making room for plaintive ornamentation in the form of brass, string, and piano figures. Darker and more self-aware than anything in the band’s career, Plowing Into The Field Of Love earned them quite a few words of praise from this very site. Augmented by some legitimately extraordinary music videos, Plowing Into The Field Of Love proved to be an unexpectedly rattling experience. Easily one of the year’s most divisive records (as is the case with any left turns this sharp), it suggested Iceage’s ambitions ran way deeper than anyone expected and, subsequently, that they had the know-how to see those ambitions to fruition. In chasing their whimsy they wound up with something I wouldn’t fault anyone for calling a masterpiece.

3. Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek

My connection with Mitski’s music is something that will always hold a very personal resonance. I’ll leave most of the reasoning behind that statement to a forthcoming piece but it’s worth noting in regards to a record that’s so unabashedly self-exploratory. Bury Me At Makeout Creek was an enthralling re-introduction for Mitski, who saw it rightfully skyrocket her name recognition. Top to bottom, it’s an extraordinary effort that re-defined her artistic capabilities after a string of meticulously composed records that leaned on chamber pop tendencies. Here, that past gets blown to bits almost immediately. One of my favorite experiences in music listening all year came when “Texas Reznikoff” explodes in its final section- another came while listening to one of the best songs I’ve heard this decade (for obvious reasons, considering that statement). Where Bury Me At Makeout Creek manages to approach the transcendental is in the process of allowing listeners to hear an artist coming into their own. Part of Mitski’s identity is laid bare by Bury Me At Makeout Creek: it’s the unwillingness to accept identity as a static object and the desire to question its cumulative elements. That search is what gives Bury Me At Makeout Creek its bruised heart- and it’s why musicians will use it as a source of inspiration for several years to come.

2. Radiator Hospital – Torch Song

After the exhilarating highs of Something Wild, Radiator Hospital had a tall order for their follow-up. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), they obliterated those towering expectations with Torch Song. Sounding more confident- and more polished- than ever before, Torch Song cemented Sam Cook-Parrott’s status as one of this generation’s keenest emerging voices. Paying attention to the minutiae of everyday experiences and injecting them with a self-deprecating sense of poetry laced with pessimism, the songs contained on this record all aim to cut and find their mark with an incredible amount of ease. Having already established themselves as one of today’s more formidable units musically, Torch Song has the added benefit of having four loaded personalities find each other in total harmony, each acting as a complement to the other. Personal diatribes, small journeys of self-discovery, and a sense of empathy inform Torch Song and help cultivate its unassuming charm. There’s not a weak track among the record’s 15 songs and it maintains an assured sense of pace throughout its relatively breezy runtime. By the time it draws to a close, it stands as one of the most fully-formed and rewarding records of recent memory.

1. LVL UP – Hoodwink’d

I don’t think any record resonated more for me throughout the course of 2014 than LVL UP’s Hoodwink’d, which I revered with literally no reservations. 2014’s strongest sophomore effort, Hoodwink’d saw LVL UP expanding most of the elements that made Space Brothers such an incredible release and retained all the others. Unreasonably refined and exceedingly personable, LVL UP have always found a strength in accentuating their members’ unique personalities and that trend got pushed to the forefront for their second full-length (which was co-released by Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound). Utilizing a distinctly unique take on their 90’s influences, the band also reveled in the benefits of a cleaner production that allowed them to sound more massive than they ever have in the past. No release felt more timely than Hoodwink’d, either, with the record practically serving as a stand-in voice for a disenfranchised sect of people. Alternately crushingly heavy, viciously poppy, relentlessly personal, and completely worn-out, Hoodwink’d never loses sight of its own mechanics. There’s a level of mutual understanding on display here that separates it from the rest of the year’s releases. Everyone feeds off each other, everyone supports each other, and everyone contributes to one hell of a set without even coming close to overstaying their welcome. Conversely, Hoodwink’d also ranks as one of the year’s most welcoming releases, radiating an empathetic warmth in its tone (and in its tones). As an entry in LVL UP’s catalog, it’s their career best. As a general 2014 release, it’s the best thing I had the privilege of hearing all year.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: All of the titles below without an accompanying link can be streamed in the order they’re listed via the embedded spotifly player below the list.]

Albums from 2014 that deserve to be heard:  Mean Creek – Local Losers | Happyness – Weird Little Birthday | Dark Blue – Pure Reality | Band Practice – Make Nice | Little Big League – Tropical Jinx | Happy Diving – Big World | Tweens – Tweens | Big Ups – Eighteen Hours of Static | Geronimo! – Cheap Trick | Greys – If Anything | Alvvays – Alvvays | White Lung – Deep Fantasy | Caddywhompus – Feathering A Nest | Left & Right – Five Year Plan | Ty Segall – Manipulator | Brain F/ – Empty Set | We Need Secrets – Melancholy and the Archive | Makthaverskan – II | Playlounge – Pilot | Eternal Summers – The Drop Beneath | MOURN – MOURN | Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2 | The History of Apple Pie – Feel Something | Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! | Trace Mountains – Buttery Sprouts | Dead Stars – Slumber | Fear of Men – Loom | PAWS – Youth Culture Forever | Swans – To Be Kind | The Yolks – King of Awesome | Crabapple – Is It You? | The Coasts – Racilia | Purling Hiss – Weirdon | Reigning Sound – Shattered | Creepoid – Creepoid | Saintseneca – Dark Arc | Mannequin Pussy – Gypsy Pervert | Fucked Up – Glass Boys | Music Band – Can I Live | Glish – Glish | Liam Betson – The Cover of Hunter | Frankie CosmosZentropy, Donutes, Affirms Glinting | Girl Tears – Tension | Martha – Courting Strong | Hurry – Everything/Nothing | The Spirit of the Beehive – The Spirit of the Beehive | Protomartyr – Under Official Color of Right | The Gary – Farewell Foolish Objects | Spit – Getting Low | Nothing – Guilty of Everything | Sharpless – The One I Wanted To Be | Legendary Wings – Do You See | Therapy? – Act of Contrition | Chris Weisman – Monet in the 90’s | Mumblr – Full of Snakes | Cayetana – Nervous Like Me | Free Cake for Every Creature – “pretty good” | Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – Party Jail | S – Cool Choices | Allo Darlin’ – We Come From The Same Place | Sneeze – Wilt | Quarterbacks – Quarterboy | The Twilight Sad – No One Wants To Be Here And No One Wants To Leave | Filmstrip – Moments of Matter | Bleeding Rainbow – Interrupt | La Sera – Hour of the Dawn | Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica | Gold-Bears – Dalliance | Sharon Van Etten – Are We There | Nude Beach – ’77 | A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos | The Gotobeds – Poor People Are Revolting | Nots – We Are Nots | Alex G – DSU | Lower – Seek Warmer Climes | Young Widows – Easy Pain | CreaturoS – Popsicle | Mr. Gnome – The Heart Of A Dark Star | Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal | Ex Hex – Rips | Trust Punks – Discipline | Failures’ Union – Tethering | Odonis Odonis – Hard Boiled Soft Boiled | Beverly – Careers | The Number Ones – The Number Ones | Tigers Jaw – Charmer | Tiger High – Inside The Acid Coven | Straight Arrows – Rising | Dead Soft – Dead Soft | The Lemons – Hello, We’re The Lemons | Baked – Debt | MAZES – Wooden AquariumSleepyhead – Wild Sometimes | Native America – Grown Up Wrong | The Wans – He Said, She Said | Trophy Wife – All the Sides | Doe – First Four | Lushes – What Am I Doing | Ultimate Painting – Ultimate Painting | Haley Bonar – Last War | The Casket Girls – True Love Kills The Fairy Tale | Slothrust – Of Course You Do | Sorority Noise – Forgettable | Team Spirit – Killing Time | Feral Trash – Trashfiction | Blank Pages – Blank Pages | Mr. Dream – Ultimate In Luxury | Carsick Cars – 3 | SUNN O))) & Ulver – Terrestrials | This Will Destroy You – Another Language | Vanna Inget – Ingen Botten | The Real Energy – Beyond Delay | Muuy Bien – DYI | Young Ladies – We Get By | Eureka California – Crunch | Negative Scanner – Negative Scanner | Violent Change – A Celebration Of Taste | Black Wine – Yell BossImpo & The Tents – Peek After A Poke | Tomorrows Tulips – When | Mountain Bike – Mountain Bike | The Lees of Memory – Sisyphus Says | Telepathic Lines – Telepathic Lines | The Shivas – You Know What To Do | Allah-Las – Worship the Sun | Das Rad – Radiation | The Coathangers – Suck My Shirt | Crow Bait – Sliding Through The Halls Of Fate | together PANGEA – Badillac | Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita | PUJOL – Kludge | FF – Lord | Aj Davila Y Terror Amor – Beibi | Emilyn Brodsky – Emilyn Brodsky Eats Her Feelings | Young Statues – Flatlands Are Your Friend | Cancers – Fatten the Leeches | Sam Coffey + The Iron Lungs – Gates of Hell | Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas | The Ar-Kaics – The Ar-Kaics | Beach Day – Native Echoes | Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers | Dude York – Dehumanize | Gino & The Goons – Shake It! | Kevin Morby – Still Life | Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin | Wyatt Blair – Banana Cream Dream | Queen Jesus – Darkness Yea, Yea | Joel Jerome – Psychedelic Thrift Store Folk | Espectrostatic – Escape From WitchtropolisCheap Girls – Famous Graves | Davila 666 – Pocos Anos, Muchos Danos | Parts & Labor – Receivers | Nick Thorburn – Music From SERIAL | DTCVHilarious Heaven, The Early Year | Bellows – Blue Breath | Teenager – E P L P | Spider Bags – Frozen Letter | The Paperhead – Africa Avenue | Parkay Quarts – Content Nausea | The Jazz June – After The Earthquake | Michael Sincavage – Empty Apartments (Supporting Actors) | Restorations – LP3 | MONO – The Last Dawn, Rays of Darkness | Matthew Melton – Outside of Paradise | The Vaselines – V For Vaselines | Total Control – Typical System | The Velveteens – Sun’s Up | Step-Panther – Strange But NiceExit Verse – Exit Verse | Slippertails – There’s A Disturbing Trend | Globelamp – Star Dust | Champ – Champ | Le Rug – Swelling (My Own Worst Anime) | VLMA – VLMA | Turn To Crime – Can’t Love | ScotDrakula – ScotDrakula | Warehouse – Tesseract | Muhammadali – Future Songs | Unwelcome Guests – Wavering | Baby Ghosts – Maybe Ghosts | White Mystery – Dubble Dragon | Constant Lovers – Experience Feelings | Future Islands – Singles | Maica Mia – Des Era | Tacocat – NVM | Popstrangers – Fortuna | Curtis Harding – Soul Power | New Swears – Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever | The Miami Dolphins – Becky | Thee Oh Sees – Drop | Fasano – The Factory LP | Dum Dum Girls – Too True | Yellow Ostrich – Cosmos | Metronomy – Love Letters | Great Cynics – Like I Belong | Neighborhood Brats – Recovery | Connections – Into Sixes | Three Man Cannon – Pretty Many People | Grouper – Ruins | YOB – Clearing The Path To Ascend | Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything | Apollo Brown – Thirty Eight | Hookworms – The Hum | Wrekmeister Harmonies – Then It All Came Down | Lee Fields & The Expressions – Emma Jean | What Moon Things – What Moon Things | Guided By VoicesMotivational Jumpsuit, Cool Planet | Gem Club – In Roses | Saturday’s Kids – The Lunatic | King of Cats – Working Out | Shopping – Tvff Noogies | The Love Triangle – Clever Clever | Nightmare Boyzzz – Bad Patterns | Future Virgins – Late Republic | Parasol – Not There | Lenguas Largas – Come On In | Cocktails – Adult Life | Generation Loss – Generation Loss | Feral Future – Haematic | Posse – Soft Opening | Diners – Always Room | Mimicking Birds – EONS | The Freezing Hands – Coma Cave ’13 | Amanda X – Amnesia | Predator – The Complete EarthWatery Love – Decorative Feeding | The Estranged – The Estranged | Steve Adamyk Band – Dial Tone | The Cry! – Dangerous Game | Ruined Fortune – Ruined Fortune | Good Throb – Fuck Off | The Elsinores – Dreams of Youth | The Bugs – The Right Time | Vacation Club – Heaven Is Too High | Freinds of Cesar Romero – Cinco Seis | Leather – Easy | Los Pepes – Los Pepes For Everyone | Juanita Y Los Felos – Nueva Numancia | Dan Webb and the SpidersEine Kleine Akustichmusik, Now It Can Be Told | Bozo Moto – BozoMoto | Low Life – Dogging | Moth – First Second | Rhythm of Cruelty – Dysphoria | Siamese Twins – Still Corner | Departure Kids – On The Go | Blessed State – Head Space | Flagland – Love Hard | Manateees – Sit N Spin | White Ass – White Ass | Ausmuteants – Order Of Operation | The Gutters – Eventually | Hysterese – Hysterese | The Ricky C Quartet – Recent Affairs | Hoax Hunters – Comfort & Safety | Arctic Flowers – Weaver

14 of ’14: The Best Songs of 2014

Mitski IV

While this may not be necessary at this point since it keeps being repeated, it’s worth stating anyway: “best”, in matters of year-end lists, isn’t made to be an objective statement- it’s a reflection of personal taste. For the year-end coverage period, I’ll also be abandoning the usual first person restrictions as another effort to further personalize these accounts and lists. In 2014, I listened to more music than I’ve ever listened to in my life. During that 365-day span, I mercilessly stalked a rotating cast of sites that posted new music on a near-daily basis. I kept up with NPR’s First Listen series, scoured bands’ schedules to see what other bands were on their shows, kept tabs on bills at venues I admired, and listened to every submission that was sent in to Heartbreaking Bravery. If a friend recommended me new music, I made sure it got heard. There were times when some larger fare would pull me in- especially if it was receiving good critical returns- but, for the most part, I made it a point to explore the smaller titles.

A few of the names on this list (and all of the others) may not necessarily be the most recognizable but don’t let the lack of recognition dissuade you from investment; let it actively encourage dividend-paying exploration. It was that decision to zero in on lesser known bands that started opening up endless hallways to music that may have otherwise stayed hidden. That’s the foundation that this site was built in and will always strive to encourage- which is part of the reason why these lists exist. Below are the 14 songs that hit me hardest throughout the past 12 months, rounded out by a top four that all deserve to be in the “Song of the Decade” conversation. I won’t be including an auxiliary list for the songs that were in consideration and didn’t make the cut this time around because, frankly, there are way too many (though I will say it’s still paining me to not be including Ought‘s “Today More Than Any Other Day“) and most of those selections’ respective titles are featured on the other lists that this site will be running (or has already run). Now that all that’s said and done, on to the list!

14. Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me

I’m Not Part of Me” has been making a dent in this site’s coverage ever since Cloud Nothings teased Here and Nowhere Else at Baby’s All Right. It’s in the realm of career best for a band who’s on their second destined-to-be-classic release. After the departure of Joe Boyer, it’s unlikely that anyone was expecting the band to grow even fiercer- yet, that’s exactly what they achieved. With melodic aplomb and hooks to spare (in addition to 2014’s finest individual turn-in from drummer Jayson Gerycz), the band responded by annihilating any of the barriers that transition left, with “I’m Not Part of Me” acting as their rousing call to arms.

13. Iceage – Against the Moon

Before “Against the Moon” was given one of the best music videos of the year, it was lingering on the outskirts of one of 2014’s most powerful albums: Plowing Into The Field Of Love. No song underlined Iceage’s startling transition with more emphasis than this somber piano and organ-driven ballad. Quietly intense and relentlessly haunting, “Against the Moon” became an immediate standout on an impossibly gripping record. It’s an entirely new look for Iceage, who embraced it fearlessly. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s lyrics, now laced with a noticeable Southern Gothic Americana influence, acted as the perfect complement to a spare, boldly atmospheric track- which was easily one of the year’s strongest efforts.

12. Band Practice – Bartending At Silent Barn

Make Nice was one of the last truly great releases of 2014 but no moment on the record was as stunning as “Bartending At Silent Barn“. I’d known of Jeanette Wall through her involvement in Miscreant Records but nothing had prepared me for how effortlessly bracing her own songs could be. “Bartending At Silent Barn” starts out simply enough; clean, palm-muted guitar, a memorable melody, raz0r-sharp lyrics, and an immediately recognizable sense of identity. While it revels in defeatism for close to the entirety of its run, there comes a moment towards the end- a single laugh- that offers a pivotal change. In that laugh (which lasts less than a second), there’s a derision targeting the assumptions that everything’s as bleak as the song’s original narrative suggests but, after a very brief pause, the assuaging declaration that “things can change” comes to a stunning fruition with one of the most life-affirming outro sections I’ve ever heard.

11. Charly Bliss – Love Me

There are times where all it can take is one song for me to be absolutely convinced by a band. “Love Me”, a song that was also my introduction to Charly Bliss, is definitely that kind of song. With an endless amount of charm and appeal, Charly Bliss conjured up a firestorm of a tune that immediately catapulted them into “new favorite band” territory. The tempo changes and stop/start dynamics in the jaw-dropping pre-chorus and chorus sections practically lay everything on the line; for the first time in a while, it sounds like a (relatively) new band is actively daring their listeners to get on their level. In terms of sound and genre, it’s a perfect bridge between basement pop and basement punk, existing in the dead center of the exact space that this site most frequently celebrates. Fiery, propulsive, and casually tantalizing, it’s easily one of my favorite things to emerge from an incredibly stacked year. Most impressively is that “Urge to Purge“, the song that follows it on the band’s extraordinary Soft Serve EP, was its biggest competition in securing a spot on this list- cementing 2014 as a statement year for one of the most exciting bands today.

10. Screaming Females – Wishing Well

Screaming Females have earned their fair share of coverage on this site by being so consistently excellent in their craft. They’re a band I’ve been keeping an eye on since I started playing shows in basements (a few of their BFG shows are among my favorite WI-based memories) and they haven’t stopped getting better in the years I’ve been following their progress. All of the years they’ve put into fierce touring (never once losing their DIY ethos) have been leading up to the release of their upcoming Rose Mountain, a surefire contender for 2015 Album of the Year. Currently 3 preview songs into the lead-up phase for the record’s release, none have been as powerful as the first official recording of “Wishing Well”, a perennial staple in their live set. Striking a perfect balance between punk grit and an uncharacteristically light pop sensibility, “Wishing Well” is ample proof of the band’s growing ambition and unwavering confidence. It’s also got a chorus for the ages, one even someone’s grandma could love.

9. Jawbreaker Reunion – E.M.O.

Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club was one of 2014’s most unexpected surprises; a debut effort loaded with determination and personality. Up until “E.M.O.”, it’s an incredibly strong record but that song single-handedly breaks the floodgates wide open and elevates it to the heights of an unforgettable classic. It’s a song that hit me hard on my first listen and hasn’t left my thoughts- or my esteem- since that initial exposure. Easily the most vulnerable moment on a record that’s frequently on the offensive, it offers a voyeuristic glimpse of the mechanics driving Jawbreaker Reunion’s creative forces. “E.M.O.” also has an unexpectedly explosive chorus that lays waste to any harbored doubts about the band’s range. It’s one of the year’s more breathtaking musical moments and it ensures Jawbreaker Reunion’s status as an emerging force.

8. LVL UP – Big Snow

The four-song split between LVL UP, Ovlov, Krill, and Radiator Hospital would have likely topped this site’s best splits of the year list even if it hadn’t been grouped in with Ovlov’s other entries. A large reason behind that it LVL UP‘s “Big Snow”, a song that managed to stand out in the band’s catalog even taking the landmark achievement that was Hoodwink’d into account. “Big Snow“, the rare LVL UP song that features all three vocalists in the group, has been kicked around in some form or another since the band was writing demos for their debut full-length, Space Brothers. In its first release as “Big Snow”, though, it’s a stunner of a track, highlighted by the vocal exchanges and one of the year’s most blistering riffs. Everything lines up in a typically (compellingly) off-kilter way that accentuates the band’s innumerable rough-hewn charms. Constantly shifting and casually brilliant, it’s yet another indicator that LVL UP is one of the best bands currently making music.


7. Little Big League – Year of the Sunhouse

Another song to appear on a split with Ovlov (it’s literally impossible for me to overstate how incredible Ovlov’s splits were this year), “Year of the Sunhouse” was a career highlight for Little Big League, even taking their outstanding Tropical Jinx into consideration. It’s a song that stunned in a Watch This-approved segment and it’s only grown more appealing with time. Punchy and refined, it takes pinpoint aim and unloads, hitting an elusive target multiple times over. Led by powerhouse drumming and Michelle Zauner’s most ferocious lyrical and vocal outing to date, it’s a song that portrays Little Big League as a band who refuses to back down. As an additional bonus, it also features a second stanza that may very well be the year’s outright best, one that’s punctuated by a life-giving declaration.

6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning

It’s sincerely doubtful that there was a record in 2014 that was more emotionally charged than Cymbal Eat Gutars’ LOSE, which dealt heavily with the death of a friend. The way that difficult subject’s dealt with is a large part of the reason why the song and it’s accompanying music video earned so many kind words, which also factored into its placement as one of the best music videos of the year. Devastatingly heartfelt and heartbreaking in its vicious nature, it’s propped up by the year’s best single line in the chorus’ “the shape of true love is terrifying enough”. For all of the difficulties, there’s a subtle strain of hope that imbues “Warning”, rendering it a resounding statement of humanism. Deeply tragic and towering in scope, this is the kind of song that’s worthy of inspiring others to start making music on their own terms.

5. Radiator Hospital – Cut Your Bangs

“Cut Your Bangs” is a song that’s been kicking around on this site since its original bandcamp release. My personal pick for song of the summer, it’s an exacting look at the way Sam Cook-Parrott’s sense of damaged romanticism manifests in Radiator Hospital’s music. There’s an emphasis on the minutiae, every mundane bit is scrutinized and brought to the forefront. Poetic and unflinchingly honest, it’s put in sharp contrast by the music surrounding the story. There’s a swing-like feel to what’s happening in the background, lilting into a reassuring groove as the narrative grapples with everyday loss. Small lies add up to a mountain of mistrust but, if you’re lucky, your friends will always be there to back you up and convince you that everything’s okay.

4. Speedy Ortiz – Doomsday

Very few songs have ever hit me as hard as “Doomsday”. It’s a personal best for Speedy Ortiz, which is no small claim, and very few songs this decade have come across so honestly. Sadie Dupuis’ vocal take for “Doomsday” is absolutely stunning, wounded and impassioned in equal measure; a desperate and veiled final cry searching for some form of absolution. An impossibly beautiful vocal melody and an atmospheric guitar section are subtly fierce grace notes in a song that sounds embattled and defeated. Released as part of the LAMC series (courtesy of Famous Class Records), it would have been more than enough to land the entry it was included on in the best splits of the year list. Weary and grasping at a sense of triumph, it’s a fascinating classic that deserves to be heard by anyone with even a passing interest in music.

3. Mitski – Townie

My relationship with Mitski’s music began with this song and that first listen remains one of my more memorable encounters with anyone’s music in 2014. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to film it twice: once in an intimate acoustic setting (for The Media) and once full-band (with Mitski backed by half of LVL UP). Even putting those personal moments aside, “Townie” was an immediate standout from what turned out to be one of the year’s strongest albums, Bury Me At Makeout Creek. For those who were fortunate enough to be aware of Mitski’s previous work, “Townie” was a sharp left turn for the enigmatic solo artist and it emphasized a growing certainty in her work. This was a hold-no-prisoners, everything out in the open type of track; a watershed moment for an artist whose career was set to skyrocket. By the time the theremin solo kicks in, everything’s already been set on fire and Mitski’s grinning to herself miles away from the maelstrom. A testament to self-reliance and utter conviction, “Townie” is a clarion call from an artist too important to be ignored.

2. Pile – Special Snowflakes

Pile’s Special Snowflakes 7″ just topped this site’s list for that category. No 7″ had a stronger single song A-side and no song managed to sink into my memory more than that song, “Special Snowflakes“. Pile have cultivated a cult following by refusing to adhere towards any one trend or another and instead opting to follow their own distinctly unique twists and turns. No song felt as monumental in 2014 as the band’s current crowning jewel, a seven minute battering ram of a track. Through a series of exhilarating peaks and crushing valleys, Pile manages to introduce an atmosphere that’s ferociously bleak, refusing to settle into one mode for too long. Pulverizing and epic, “Special Snowflakes” suggests that Pile’s operating at the height of their powers, which bodes well for their forthcoming full-length. It’s also another release that embodies everything great about Exploding in Sound Records and the vast number of reasons the label’s so frequently celebrated here. This is bold, inventive music that thrives on its own conviction, on its own terms, and will be remembered for leaving a trail of well-intentioned destruction in its wake.

1. Perfect Pussy – Interference Fits

No band has been written about more on Heartbreaking Bravery than Perfect Pussy (a band I traveled considerable lengths to see eight times throughout the course of 2014). No song has meant more to me than “Interference Fits”. Putting aside the fact that vocalist Meredith Graves (who has somehow become this site’s patron saint and is still its sole interview subject) unexpectedly dedicated this song to me in Minneapolis, putting aside the fact that she cried in a comic book store after I alerted her to the fact that it had started streaming on NPR in advance of Say Yes to Love‘s release, and putting aside the fact that she used my original write-up as a reference point for hope, that statement would still hold true. “Interference Fits” soundtracked a lot of bigger moments for me in what was a very turbulent 2014 and the original connection I forged with the song only deepened as the year progressed. Fitting, since it’s a song about making and severing connections; Graves’ most personal outpouring to date. The lyrics, as always, are beyond stunning but the song wouldn’t be anywhere close to as unshakable as it is if it weren’t for Perfect Pussy’s most adventurous musical turn-in to date. Eschewing their normally blown-out mode in favor of something more subtle and restrained, “Interference Fits” proved that Perfect Pussy weren’t, as some naysayers originally suggested, a one trick pony. Easily the band’s most delicate and ornate offering to date, it retained their whirlwind intensity and cutthroat identity. Masterfully wielding a tension and explosion dynamic, “Interference Fits” lures listeners in with its first half before a measure of silence provides a foreboding warning to one of the most cathartic second acts in a song this decade; there’s as much narrative in the music as there is in the lyric set. With raw power lingering in the wings and at the heart of its diarist leader, Perfect Pussy created something that stung deep enough to leave a lasting, curiously endearing scar.

Watch This: Vol. 62

[Please refer to Vol. 59 for the introductory paragraph.]

1. Lower – Bastard Tactics (Radio K)

Seek Warmer Climes was a restless and unforgiving record that found Lower making huge strides and revealing a widescreen ambition. “Bastard Tactics” was one of the standout moments and a song that suggested the band was in search of something more. Radio K let the band invade its studios and filmed them as they tore the subtly foreboding “Bastard Tactics” to shreds.

2. Perfect Pussy (Pitchfork)

No band has meant more to this site than Perfect Pussy. No band has been covered on this site more than Perfect Pussy. Why? Time plays a factor; the band was just starting to emerge when the site was just starting. Perfect Pussy’s politics match up with what this site strives to enforce either implicitly or explicitly. Their music exists on a spectrum that this site was built to support and the band readily embraces a DIY ethos that this site was built to celebrate. They’ve become one of the most divisive bands of the last several years and incited a staggering amount of vitriol over policies built off of an empathetic foundation. Vocalist Meredith Graves has emerged as one of the stronger voices in a variety of things that can no longer be neglected and has penned some of the most memorable lyrics of the past two years. While a lot of these statements are extremely subjective, one thing isn’t: this band lives for the live setting. No matter how battered they are mentally or physically, no matter how much adversity they’re (somewhat inexplicably) forced to face, and no matter how downright exhausted they are, one thing never changes: they transform into extremes of themselves after all of their amps are up and running. Graves may be on the verge of losing her voice because of her repeatedly public exorcisms (which are often violent) of extremely personal information while on stage and things may sound like their threatening to fall apart at any given second but that’s part of what makes the band fascinating. There’s a palpable sense of danger and uncertainty that the band conjures up while they’re on whatever stage they’re given and, no matter how rough things get, they’ve never failed to come out of the other side grinning through their collective grimace, that much stronger for the battle. Their marathon set for Pitchfork Paris? No exception.

3. Strand of Oaks – Mirage Year (Out of Town Films)

Strand of Oaks’ Heal was as immersive and elegiac as just about anything to have been released over the past 12 months. Easily the band’s finest work to date, it saw them expanding on early promise in leaps and bounds. “Mirage Year” was one of the most startlingly gorgeous moments on an already unreasonably strong album. Out Of Town Films set up camp and turned their lenses on the band as they set to work on delivering a jaw-dropping performance that only gets stronger as it goes, with everything culminating in a breathtaking guitar freakout that brings the song to a smoky close. Add in some top-tier cinematography and the end result’s not only inexplicably moving- it’s also one of the best live clips this series has ever had in its ranks.  Watch it below.

4. Ought (Pitchfork)

Was there any record more unexpected this year than Ought’s More Than Any Other Day? More importantly, how many were as brilliant? For just about 46 minutes, the band fearlessly collapses the connections between post-punk, electro-pop, noise-punk, and brit-pop while exploring the lightly-treaded territories that best suit their whimsy. More than just about any record, More Than Any Other Day sounded like a mission statement that was shot straight through with youthful abandon, disregard for conventionalism, and a slightly askew professionalism. Endearingly spastic and undeniably strange, their set for Pitchfork Paris becomes hypnotic and nearly impossible to evade once it’s in motion. Piercing and precise, the band’s already shockingly close to a willfully weird perfection.

5. La Sera – Hour of the Dawn (Last Call With Carson Daly)

In 2013, Mikal Cronin made his name known by virtue of releasing the perfect summer album in MCII. La Sera came dangerously close to achieving the same thing this year with the towering Hour of the Dawn. Last Call With Carson Daly has been the most music-centric late night network television program going for some time now, allotting multiple-song performances to their featured artists on a regular basis. As was previously mentioned, even in crowded company, La Sera’s stood out as one of the best the show’s ever seen. “Hour of the Dawn” is the second of the three songs to be featured in one episode- and in this setting, it comes vibrantly alive.

[Due to some technical issues, this video can only currently be seen here.]

Watch This: Vol. 38

Well, it’s been a long battle but it seems like the impossible has finally arrived and Watch This has been brought back up to speed. To celebrate, the 38th installment will feature no single performance but rather small (or full) sets from a set of five. All of the artists that appear in this list could rightfully be considered site favorites (and, hell, one of them has essentially become Heartbreaking Bravery’s flagship band) and will undoubtedly be featured more in the future. In the case of Courtney Barnett, an isolated performance from her included set has already been given a spot in a past Watch This– but packaged together with the rest of an extraordinary performance, it proved too tantalizing to pass up (this may very well be the only repeat performance Watch This ever runs). All of that being the case, this is quite a lot to take in- so, lean back, settle in, turn the speakers up, and Watch This.

1. Bleeding Rainbow (KEXP)

Kicking off a trio of KEXP sets is a band who recently earned a spot towards the top of the Music Video Mixtape,  Bleeding Rainbow. Bringing four of their best songs out for the occasion, the shoegaze-leaning quartet drives home just how forceful these songs are capable of being. It’s a startling performance from a band that continues to pick up momentum. Don’t get caught in their way.

2. Fear of Men (KEXP)

Fear of Men’s Loom was an important step for a band that had long been deserving of a push forward. In the live setting, the songs get an even airier texture than they do on record, lending it a wide-open feel that propels them to greater heights. All four songs deserve repeat viewings in their own right but are even better when played as a set. A very welcome reminder of a record worth more discussion that it’s received.

3. Courtney Barnett (KEXP)

As stated in the video’s introduction, A Sea of Split Peas was one of 2014’s great surprises; a star-making effort from a relative unknown. Here, KEXP celebrates it as fully as possible, turning their lenses (and audio equipment) onto this massive eight-song set from The Triple Door as part of their VIP Club concert series. As it progresses, Barnett grows more comfortable and more confident, eventually bringing everything home with the can’t-fail 1-2 combination of “Avant Gardener” and “History Eraser”. Don’t miss it.

4. Saintseneca (NPR)

Dark Arc, Saintseneca‘s ANTI- debut, made a lot of people (finally) sit up and take notice of them- and even lent the members other respective projects (All Dogs and The Sidekicks, especially) some well-deserved exposure. For a band built from that background, something like this- an NPR Tiny Desk Session feature- feels like nothing short of a major triumph. There are very few things that feel more right than a band worthy of a major break actually catches one. To top everything off, this particular session is an absolute stunner and stands as one of NPR’s best sessions in recent memory.  

5. Perfect Pussy (Pitchfork)

Close to everything that could be said about Perfect Pussy’s set at Pitchfork has already been covered– but, if the opportunity to write even more about this band presents itself, I’ll jump at it. While live footage capture can never come close to doing the experience of actually seeing a band like Perfect Pussy justice, it’s difficult to argue against when its presented so beautifully. The more I watch these videos, the more I come back to a recurring thought: music and musicians, at large, are split into two groups- the technicians vs. the feelers. In the former category, bands will often sacrifice energy to present their music with as much polished precision as possible, whereas in the latter category, perfect technique is an acceptable casualty because it stands in the way of unfiltered passion. I will always stand on- and stand up for- the side of the latter. It’s a position that Perfect Pussy fully embodies and it makes their sets that much more thrilling (there’s a reason I’ve gone well out of my way to see them no less than eight times this year-so-far). So, while Meredith Graves‘ voice is noticeably raw (she’d been on a 12+ hour sabbatical from speaking the night before after noticing it was shot and fearing she might lose it completely), it’s also a small testament to courage. Ultimately, it’s exactly the kind of thing that gives a performance like this an incredible amount of character- and it has the potential to inspire legions of aspiring musicians to get behind a microphone so they can pour their hearts out.

Pitchfork Festival Day 3: Perfect Pussy (Review)

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It’s only fitting that the run of festival coverage ends with Perfect Pussy, a band that’s earned more words from this site than any other. They’ve been a part of the site since it’s very beginnings (vocalist Meredith Graves, now firmly positioned as this site’s patron saint, was one of the very first to know that it even existed). They’re one of the only bands that inspired me to break a narrative rule in order to use first-person by virtue of being so endearingly sincere about issues that are important to myself and to this site. I have lost desire for all feeling and Say Yes to Love earned two of the strongest reviews that this site’s ever given and their showstopping NXNE performance prompted the most personal thing I’ve ever written for any outlet. I have seen this band’s ascension and felt confident in my position to ally myself with them, even in the face of a staggering amount of backlash. Over the past 7 months, I’ve been fortunate enough to seen them play 8 sets (and in everything from a halfpipe in a bike shop to a fairly extravagant ballroom) and fully intend on raising that number at the next available opportunity. Of those 8 appearances, none felt as important as their showcase on Day 3 of the Pitchfork Music Festival.

I’d spent a large portion of the festival, and the moments leading up to their set, with a nerve-wracked Graves and watching her steady transformation throughout their set was nothing short of inspiring. All of her fears seemed to be coming to a head before their set even started when the sound crew ran into a technical issue with her vocal amp. This prompted a brief delay as a visibly distressed Graves did everything she could to attempt to assist them in resolving the issue as the rest of the band quietly set up around her. It was a matter of minutes before the issue was resolved and the band was allowed to breathe a collected sigh of relief. They took a minute (maybe less) to collect themselves sidestage before walking back out and picking up their instruments in front of a crowd of roughly 3,000 people, all of which anxious to have their opinions dissuaded or reaffirmed.

What happened next was nothing short of extraordinary: as the band tore through song after song with an indescribable amount of passion and meaning, the sound proved to be perfect. Graves was audible, no instrument overpowered another, and each member gave the performances of their lives. I’ve never seen Garrett Koloski, easily one of the most underrated and overlooked drummers out there, hit his drums with more fierceness or look more determined. Synth and noise mastermind Shaun Sutkus seemed like he was completely disconnected from everything but hitting every nuanced motion with an uncanny precision while occasionally being driven by the music into frantic, spastic movements. Bassist Greg Ambler ran into no problems with his cab, head, or levels and took the opportunity to thrash around without consequence, pummeling his bass to the point of abuse without missing a note. Guitarist Ray McAndrew transformed into a mode that bordered the animialistic, growing increasingly intense as the set’s momentum picked up before it’s final breaking point at the very end.

As for Graves… there are no words that can do justice to just how commanding of a performer she is. It’s an intrinsic quality that’s completely intangible and it was one of the things that made me fall for this band in the first place; her face is usually contorted in a manner that expresses the meanings she’s trying to convey because she can’t help it- she feels this music so completely that it seems to pour out through every fiber of her being. As a performer, it’s tough to tell if she animated the songs or the songs animate her, and watching her use her conviction to convince a crowd of thousands (easily one of the largest the band has ever played to) as they brought her to ecstatic tears was one of the proudest moments of my life. Every flower that was thrown at her (and there were several), and every tear that she shed, was earned- a culmination of understanding, validation, and the feeling of a moment.

Watching Graves’ transformation from fighting against some severe nerves and her total certainty that everything would go wrong (which, unfortunately, has seemed to be a trend at several of their recent shows) to the flower-adorned vocalist in the throes of one of the best sets I’ve ever seen, suddenly recognizing that everything was falling into place, prompted a feeling that’s literally impossible to put into words. It brought out the life in her, it brought out the life in the audience, and it sure as hell brought out the life in me- it’s those exact moments of subtle minutiae that I built this site to celebrate and to see it happen to someone who has become one of my closest friends was unforgettable. Being surrounded by strangers, all having extremely intense reactions that paralleled mine was an experience in camaraderie that all festivals are supposed to foster; where the setting suddenly doesn’t matter and everyone’s putting their all into the performance happening on the stage in front of them.

I“, “Driver“, “Bells”, “Interference Fits“, “Big Stars”, “III”, “Advance Upon the Real”, the songs came one after another, with no interruptions from the band other than an occasional thank you. The order didn’t matter because no one had time to react; every song felt like a perfectly-timed triumph that whipped the audience into a frenzy (shouting “Since when do we say yes to love?” during “Interference Fits” with 3,000 strangers and a few close friends broke the plane of ecstasy right into total catharsis). All of the front rows were doing their best to hold onto something, anything, for dear life as a mosh pit threatened to consume them. Railings were saviors, heads were kicked in, elbows were thrown, and everybody made sure that if someone else was in trouble, they were given the attention that they needed to prevent anything damaging from happening. Everything and everyone was unified in a staggering display of the exact kind of support the band does their best to endorse. No oppression, only care.

As the band wound their set down with Sutkus’ noise, sweat-and-tear-strained mascara was running down Graves’ unbelieving face; a lasting image of gratitude. She took out a camera to take a snapshot of an adoring audience, still in stunned disbelief, visibly overwhelmed, as everyone else quietly packed up, unable to contain smiles of their own. Nothing had gone wrong. Nothing had broken. Nothing had stopped the band- and it’s extremely unlikely anything could have stopped them after a certain point, anyway. As everyone left, Sutkus stayed, still completely entranced by the moment, doing one of his best noise deconstructions to date, as people in the audience caught their breath and looked on, either in awe, wonderment, or a state of complete and total confusion. Perfect Pussy had said just about everything they’d ever wanted to say with that set, in exactly the way it should be said. Actions became words, words became daggers with pinpoint accuracy, and no one could be bothered to tear themselves away. Each one of their thirty minutes (a marathon set, by their standards) was paid back in full by an unrelenting applause- and somewhere, off in the corner of my mind, that applause has refused to cease. Hats off to the band, hats off to the film crew (who provided some stunning visuals), hats off to the sound crew, and hats off to the audience who finally gave the band exactly the kind of recognition they deserve.

Deafheaven at Bottom Lounge – 7/18/14 (Review, Photos)

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Last weekend Chicago’s Union Park hosted one of the Midwest’s stacked festivals of the year and various venues around the area hosted official after party shows. By weekend’s end, around 20 sets were taken in between the official showcases and one of the day 1 after shows. The latter of which featured the first sets I was able to see throughout the weekend (shortly after arriving at The Bottom Lounge- who were putting on the after show, Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves stole me off for drinks at the festival grounds and we were able to hear Beck float through an impressive-sounding set in the background). After running back to the Bottom Lounge there was a short amount of time and the night’s first act, Pink Frost, had their set off and running. The Chicago-based quartet have been a fixture of the local scene for years and now, with the release of Traitors becoming increasingly imminent (it’s due out in September), they’re operating at a higher level than ever. Mixing shoegaze, psych, and punk elements into something impressive and towering on record, they’re even more formidable as a live act. All of the years they’ve spent playing together has resulted in an extraordinarily tight dynamic where each tiny detail is woven into an arresting sonic tapestry full of complementary threads. Their allotted time may have been understandably brief but it wound up feeling like one of the more complete sets of the year.

Perfect Pussy were next to take the stage and, despite sounding near-perfect in the soundcheck, wound up running into some apparent mixing problems. Not that it mattered, though. The band’s made a habit out of turning even the worst situations into something unforgettable. So, while Shaun Sutkus’ synths were pushed so far up that they were overwhelming just about everything else, the band played with their trademark fervor. That passion for performing is one of the biggest reasons this band’s celebrated so frequently here and, to her credit, Graves gave the absolutely packed crowd her all, even while being more inaudible than usual- to the point of leaving some of her blood on the floor (and earning several scratches on her hands). All thing considered, it stood as another display of breathtaking fierceness from a band that refuses to quit, no matter the circumstance.

Deafheaven were the headliners for the evening and their set leaned heavily on the monumental Sunbather, one of the only records to draw as much criticism from genre elitists as Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes to Love, making comfortable bedfellows out of an otherwise curiously unusual pairing. They didn’t waste their time- or position- as headliners, they filled their set with as much material as possible. At least one new song was played that seemed to advance the transition Sunbather represented for them. Vocalist George Clarke, clad in all black, commanded attention with ease, frequently going in and out of the crowd- occasionally crowdsurfing in a corpse-like position (and it’s worth noting that every move felt organic rather than rehearsed). “Dream House” was one of several assured high points by virtue of being a moment that featured atmospheric crescendos hitting a note near the euphoric. By the time they were loading their equipment off-stage, they’d given the audience just about everything they could, bringing the first night in Chicago to a successful close.

Photographs of the evening can be seen below.

Perfect Pussy at Soybomb HQ – 6/21/14 (Review, Photos, Video)

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While NXNE provided a lot of the most memorable moments I’ve had so far this year, I’d be completely and totally remiss not to pay special attention to one of the non-festival shows: an absolutely stacked lineup flying under the Summer Melt banner and taking place in the middle of a halfpipe. Originally, the show (heavy on local Toronto acts) was going to be headlined by the Cleveland-based Pleasure Leftists– an incredibly casual last-minute offer allowed Perfect Pussy to step in literally hours beforehand as a secret headliner. To their credit, their secret remained a secret (unlike the Spoon debacle just a night before) and caught several attendees by surprise as they entered the venue (which had set times drawn up on a long sheet of paper and in plain sight). A late arrival meant missing a slew of talented bands including Wrong Hole, Das Rad, Toronto Homicide Squad, Petra Glynt, and Teenanger.

Even five bands in, the night was far from over. It didn’t take long for Cellphone (pictured above) to set up and it took even less time for them to impress. On record, the quartet emphasizes their roughness, eclecticism, and electronic leanings. Live? They explode with a fury worthy of the hardest-hitting bands of STT’s golden age. Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, and (especially) Dinosaur Jr. all came to mind as apparent touchstones during different parts of their set, which stayed rooted in something totally intangible and unique to them. Hardcore influences and progressions cut apart riff-heavy melodicism and the band frequently sounds like they’re on the verge of spiraling out of control. It’s a controlled mania that had more than a few people shoving and dancing as hard as they possibly could by their set’s end. It was one of a very large handful of shows the band played throughout the NXNE dates and the practice showed- the end result was the best set of the trip from a band I’d previously never heard of.

Toronto’s Ice Cream may not have had the blinding energy of Cellphone but they certainly weren’t lacking in intrigue. The band’s a very minimalist post-punk act made up of nothing more than vocals, bass, a very occasional guitar, and synth. While they were stealthily making their way through their set (and the bottom of a bottle of liquor), they ran a bubble machine to its dregs. A little more than halfway through their set, a very-probably-inebriated audience member kept trying (and partially succeeding) at getting the bubbles back up and running, as the band played on, relatively amused and unconcerned. Most of their set hinged on bright melodies and pop-leaning basslines but when they deviated away from this, especially towards the end of their set, they found new life and hit new peaks. When their set finally wound down, they’d succeeded in creating an impression while simultaneously leaving the space wide-open for Pleasure Leftists to do just about anything they wanted.

Pleasure Leftists took full advantage of what was essentially a new slate after Ice Cream wound things down. After a string of strong releases on Deranged Records, the Cleveland band was in rare form, which was likely in part to the excessive amount of touring they’ve been doing lately. They’ve sharpened their brand of brooding post-punk and the fangs  that they’ve grown along with it. While the whole band is incredibly formidable in their respective roles and fully capable of creating towering soundscapes of tension-filled dread, vocalist Haley Morris still stands out. Onstage, Morris is a force to be reckoned with; a constant- and constantly expressive- larger-than-life presence. Pouring an endless supply of nervous energy and pure feeling into her delivery, Morris commands attention so completely that it occasionally runs the risk of losing track of what’s happening around her- don’t make that mistake. Pleasure Leftists’ instrumentalists are so well-versed in post-punk that on first listen someone could easily mistake them for a long-lost 70’s UK band that split small club bills with Warsaw. Their set was everything anyone could hope for and was rousing enough to leave the audience absolutely stunned. Everything that Pleasure Leftists are currently doing is clicking so neatly into place that it’s impossible to expect their trajectory to stabilize in anything other than ascension.

Finally, at a time roughly between 3:00 and 3:30 A.M., Perfect Pussy had set up and was off with their usual intensity. It’s no secret how I feel about this band and this won’t be the last time I write about them- or come even remotely close. I have made my feelings about them very public on multiple occasions and will continue to do so- because they are firmly rooted in all of the ethos that I believe in. Morality, integrity, independence, acceptance, and a commitment to DIY are all present in both their music and their interview. Vocalist Meredith Graves, in particular, has been very vocal about things that people need to start being more vocal about (and almost all of them are extensions of basic human kindness, compassion, and empathy). I would probably know next to none of this if I hadn’t been absolutely blown away by their 2013 demo I have lost all desire for feeling and made it a point to get as close to the band, who were making music I loved so fiercely and championing ideals I so firmly believed in, as I possibly could. It’s been a downright honor to watch the public interest in them skyrocket since the release of that demo and when Say Yes to Love came out, it made them feel revelatory all over again.

As with any band experiencing success, this meant seeing the venues housing them gradually grow- and the tickets fly much faster than they used to. So, when Graves pulled me aside after their Great Hall appearance for a beer at a Toronto bar to catch up and explain the events of the previous night, I was already on a barely-contained adrenaline rush. When we were interrupted by a guy offering to add Perfect Pussy onto an already-stacked bill that was being topped by Pleasure Leftists in a halfpipe in the middle of the night, all I could do was look at a noticeably excited Graves and hope she’d say yes. After all the details got figured out, it became evident fairly quickly that this was probably going to be the show that I remembered most from the Toronto stay. A band I’d loved and been chomping at the bit to see for the longest time (Pleasure Leftists) playing in a small, DIY space with who is arguably my favorite band of the moment playing after them as a secret headliner? With local support to top everything off, it seemed fail-proof. It was. Even though the late slot meant playing to an exhausted/subdued crowd, when Perfect Pussy tore into their set, it finally felt like they were at home. It was the exact kind of space that the band has fostered mutually symbiotic relationships with- even as their stature would suggest they’ve outgrown them.

It felt like a subtle, extraordinary moment and it was a privilege to be there to witness something like that happen. Even though the band’s set was abbreviated (even for them), it still hit with the force of an all-out military strike and the band laid just about everything they had on the line. Drummer Garrett Koloski was simultaneously battling to keep his kit upright and continuing to beat the living shit out of it- bassist Greg Ambler was tapping into an inward violence- guitarist Ray McAndrew was thrashing about more spiritedly than ever- synth/noise artist Shaun Sutkus was tucked away in the back, occasionally letting the music move him into making frantic body motions- and vocalist Meredith Graves (easily one of the finest bad leaders that this generation’s produced) commanding as much attention as humanly possible without being consumed by the din around her. All of the songs they played that evening were initially written down on a sheet of paper, cut into ribbons, and placed in a hat where the setlist was drawn out of- with the exception of one, which McAndrew took it upon himself to launch into, without warning, adding an element of surprise for both the audience and his bandmates. That moment was the only sly sidestep in an otherwise pulverizing, straightforward set that re-confirmed Perfect Pussy as one of the most entertaining live bands currently playing shows. By the time “Advance Upon the Real” wound down into Sutkus’ noise epilogue, they’d provided the evening with enough punch and verve to ensure that it wouldn’t be an evening that anyone who was present for it forget about it anytime soon. It didn’t feel like they’d officially arrived; it felt like they’d arrived home.

The photo gallery of this show can be accessed by clicking the link below. Beneath that link is a video of Perfect Pussy ending their set with “Advance Upon the Real”.

Soybomb HQ (Photo Gallery)

NXNE Day 3: Perfect Pussy (Review, Photos)

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This was it; this was every single reason I came to NXNE. A band that means so much to me that I refuse to write about them from my usual distant vantage point headlining a bill stacked full of personal favorites. A finale where vocalist Meredith Graves, whom I love dearly and have called the patron saint of this site, shed her skin so completely that you could see her soul. A set that literally set an amp head on fire. A split crowd that was as violent as it was enchanted; both sides frozen to their spot, shouting out insults or silently praying for the well-being of Graves as she sank to the floor, adjusting the microphone with her. A bass that was split in half over the knee of Greg Ambler, broken out of frustration, regret, and helplessness.  A kiss on the cheek. A small but meaningful exchange several minutes before the chaos that Perfect Pussy has so capably controlled in the past finally reared its head and did its best to consume them; the unfailing resilience of three people desperate to fight back. A fierce performance that turned into an unforgettable event. A religious experience.

Nearly all of that happened in the band’s final ten minutes and that was nearly every participant’s takeaway. Accusations started rolling in almost as soon as the band was forcefully escorted off of the stage by the same staff that refused to help them when their bass amp finally gave out. “The bassist is abusive to the rest of the band”, “the singer can’t handle pressure”, “that fucking sucked”, “this is exactly what happened at the bridge a few months ago at SXSW”. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Wrong again. I’ll get to all of that in a moment but not before I get to what nearly everyone writing about this has seemingly forgotten: prior to that point, while still struggling with some sound issues (most notably bass and vocal levels), Perfect Pussy was careening headlong into their set and had whipped an audience- that had previously been almost uniformly gentle- into an outright frenzy. Bruises, cuts, and blows were given and earned at roughly the same rate. No one had any intention of stopping as the band, as they do at their best, ceased resembling a band and instead became more reminiscent of a white-hot wrecking ball. All of the songs came at a blink-and-it’s-gone clip, one after another: “Driver”, “Bells”, “Work”, “Big Stars”, each song inciting a new aggressive push in the audience- and in the band.

Then, everything was broken wide open; smoke started emanating from the bass head as the circuitry caught fire, a visibly shaken Graves looked out into a spot of nothingness and repeated “I don’t know how to ask for help”. A guitar that was re-purposed as a bass was split over a knee and handed off to a hungry audience (the instrument was no big loss- Ambler hadn’t expected it to last the weekend). Then, a few moments of confusion passed, looks were exchanged, and without warning Graves, drummer Garrett Koloski, and noise extraordinaire Shaun Sutkus all started to sink their teeth in as Ambler and guitarist Ray McAndrew exited the stage. What, just moments ago, had been an explosive set was now taking on new life as performance art.

It didn’t take long for the jeering to begin: every variation of “you suck” and “get off the stage” were directed at the surviving trio. Most damningly, though, was the repeated chant of “fuck off and go die”. Initially, after hearing Graves’ exhaustion in a short exchange before their set, I was filled with concern for my friend as I watched her tremble, on the verge of tears, before her exaggerated breathing fell in line with the rhythmic propulsion provided by Koloski and Sutkus. As Graves seemed to pull herself further inward, she began to fall into a quiet desperation and began repeating the mantra of “jealousy, anger, hate, regret, fear” (this same mantra is buried within the recesses of “VII”, the outstanding album-closer from Say Yes to Love). As this was happening, I stopped taking pictures. I considered jumping the edge of the stage to embrace my friend (a few of the people attending this with me urged me to do the same); someone who I was convinced was on the verge of a complete breakdown. My feet were cemented to the spot, I’m not sure I could have moved if I had tried.

Then, it clicked. I saw something in Graves’ eyes- a certain determination that is unique to her. It’s that same determination that’s helped make her one of the most compelling performers of this generation (a claim I don’t make lightly and one I’ve firmly believed since well before our first few talks). After receiving that small reassurance, I pulled my camera back out and began documenting- still concerned but no longer overcome with fear and anxiety. Once again, I found myself surrounded by a pool of silenced onlookers and unfiltered vitriol; the critical-commercial contrast of Perfect Pussy come to complete and total fruition. That contrast is one of the things that drove me to the band in the first place, two extremes so vocally present in two separate mediums: the content of the article vs. the comments section. Only that night, the two audiences that stood in contrast to each other weren’t critics and readers; it was the actual audience vs. the band itself. And all of the sudden, that mantra “jealousy, anger, hate, regret, fear” took on a new, layered meaning.

The five qualities contained in that mantra are the five you’re supposed to live without. It’s a philosophy that Graves has embraced- only on the night of June 20, 2014, she got hung up on one: regret. Graves would eventually break the mantra to repeat “regret’ over and over, taking as few breaths as possible. I would find out later, as she repeated the word each time, she was crawling back into her past and doing her best to address and forgive all of the regrets that she was still clinging to. Reality began to flirt with art once more and a newfound sadness crept into Graves’ repetitions. As each breath became shorter, each new face inflected with more pain, and each word grew more impassioned, the microphone was drawn closer to the floor. A few minutes into this brutally rigorous self-examination, the moment took hold of Graves and the weight of it drove her incrementally down until, finally, she was kneeling on the stage, flush, short of breath, a few tears escaping, and doing her best to manage her demons.

In those moments, everything around me felt quiet, even though the chants continued. Graves didn’t have that luxury; she instead chose to fixate on that harrowing “fuck off and go die” chant coming from at least one person. “Fuck off and go die”. “Fuck off and go die”. “FUCK OFF AND GO DIE.” Each new iteration was what Graves chose to take from the audience in front of her- and she obliged it. Graves would steal me away for a beer and talk about this at length the next day, which is a conversation where I’d learn new lengths of her empathy and understanding: “Fuck off and go die?” “Okay, if you want to see me die, I’ll destroy myself in front of you. Maybe then you’ll finally find some happiness.” This, in a nutshell, is one of the strongest reasons for my celebrations of Perfect Pussy. That dedication to compassion for all sides, a trait exhibited most strongly by Graves and adamantly reinforced by the best of the band. There’s an earnest quality to Perfect Pussy that stands in direct opposition to the apathy so prevalent in music earning acclaim today. This performance, more than any other offering the band has given, cemented their conviction.

Graves would later go on to say that during her reactionary exchange with the bold heckling, she couldn’t stop thinking of Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović- her piece “Rhythm 0” in particular- and it’s hard to blame her. The parallels that she’s had to endure are eerily similar; it’s never easy to be subjected to a public trial when more than half of the audience seems intent on doing their best to make you aware that they can end you. I’ve been back to Perfect Pussy’s performance in my head time and time again, each time with a little more contextual information. Nothing can ever fully duplicate what it was like watching everything unfold but each revisit’s provided at least one more new answer or one more stray thought. My certainty about some aspects increases while my curiosity about the rest of it grows exponentially.

At least those accusations that were quoted above can all be dealt with simply: “The bassist is abusive to the rest of the band?” No, Ambler’s “hissy fit” wasn’t pure impulsion; everyone in the band had done all they could to warrant attention to some potentially venue-threatening problems, he did what was quite literally one of the only things that they could have done to finally get it. “The singer can’t handle pressure?” No. That’s what most of this piece has been about; it’s also worth noting that I shared a few words with a guitarist from The Kickback, who had come for Spoon but secured a spot for Perfect Pussy, who may have put it most adeptly: “I loved it. It was in your face and you just had to deal with it. They made you deal with it. It was what punk’s supposed to be.” Ambler’s bass-breaking was certainly a far cry from his flinging a previous bass off a bridge in Austin during SXSW– while it’s true both instances were motivated in part by frustration and both took place at music festivals, that’s literally their only connecting threads. “That fucking sucked?” I know I can’t definitively state whether something’s good or bad- but I will do my best to argue that particular assumption every time I come across it.

One part that keeps haunting me, no matter how many angles I approach it from, is how the set ended. It didn’t end on the artist’s terms and felt like a total violation of artistry in general. It was the pinnacle of an evening that was full of behind-the-scenes hostility. Whether it came from ill-mannered heckling, whether it came from a beer being literally grabbed out of one of the previous performer’s hands backstage by the crew that was on hand for the evening, by the (likely unintentionally) overbearing nature of the marketing campaign to let just about anyone know that Spoon was the “secret” headliner well before doors, and the ever-present corporatization of a lineup full of artists that do their best to champion independent ideals. Then, in a final egregious public manifestation, that hostility took on its most present form by way of NXNE security marching onstage to remove the three remaining members of Perfect Pussy by force.

First they came to Sutkus, who looked at them with some disbelief, heard something and shook his head “no” before wordlessly exiting the stage; Koloski followed roughly the same routine while throwing his hands up in mild disgust. I’d find out later that they were both asked to escort the now crumpled-on-the-floor Graves from her position at the microphone. They came for her last, as she was still shouting “regret”, visibly shaken and deep inside her own thoughts: “Regret!” “Regret!” “Re-GRET!” “REGRET!” ringing out more clearly than ever, now with no synthesizers to back it- only some light, propulsive drumming. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” Now, more furiously than ever. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” Now, on its own, with only jeers and stunned, apprehensive silence serving as the backdrop. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGR-“. A hand on the shoulder, a look up, a sad acceptance. A snapped trance. A return to real life with a new lease. A stunned audience.

And then, as Graves was being forcibly helped off the stage by the same staff that refused to help her when she needed it, she flashed a bleary smile, in one final and defiant act of heartbreaking bravery.

All I could do was applaud.

An extensive photo gallery of this set can be accessed here.

Soybomb HQ: Cellphone, Ice Cream, Pleasure Leftists, Perfect Pussy (Photo Gallery)

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A note: All night tonight Heartbreaking Bravery will be running photo galleries from the recent Toronto trip. All of these galleries will have full reviews to accompany them in the near future. The preceding galleries all came with additional notes out of necessity but this will be the short reminder that runs with the remainder. Neither of the final two galleries (Soybomb HQ and Smiling Buddha) were part of NXNE- but both were definite highlights. Enjoy the photographs below and keep an eye out for the upcoming reviews.